Murder on the Orient Express (1974) review

The film takes place in 1935, detective Hercule Poirot is on board a train bound for England, but his train is halted by heavy snowfall and the murder of Mr. Ratchett has taken place overnight. Poirot is asked by his friend Signor Bianchi to solve the murder.

The film starts off with showing us a crime that happened 5 years ago. It’s an effective scene, in which we learn of what happened to the Armstrong’s, a family who had their only child kidnapped and murdered when the ransom was paid. There is no sound played in this opening except for the unsettling music which plays over everything, in this scene key moments are taken as photographs and are then put into newspapers giving details about the case. The imagery used with the pictures that are taken for the newspapers are creepy and unnerving, the chair on its side, the picture of a teddy bear that’s thrown aside, and the newspaper drawings of suspects outside the house, it can cause an unsettling effect when you see that these are just ordinary things, but they when used in context and with the way the film is shot and the music playing, it changes them from everyday things into something sinister. There are many scenes which surprise you and turns the atmosphere in a different direction, such as when a scene turns from a humorous moment into a serious one when the camera suddenly turns to a woman standing silently outside of a window holding a bloody dagger.

The twist of the film is well known, I know people who haven’t even watched or read it, yet they know the ending. I’ve known it from the beginning, so when watching a murder mystery where I already knew the answer, I thought I might not enjoy it as must as I might have, and that might be true, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The way that Poirot works everything out, how he notices small things and how his expressions convey when he thinks someone is lying or when he has noticed something. The enjoyment is mainly in how he explains how it all happened. When he gathers everyone together and starts to go through his thought process, how he pieced everything together, and how he tells everyone’s side of the story, how he exposes their lies and mistakes. The best part of the film for me was not the discovery of the murderer, but the way in which it is explained how Poirot figured everything out. Maybe if I didn’t have foreknowledge the twist would be the best part.

The film paces itself well, it would keep someone who didn’t know the twist guessing for much of it. All of the suspects are suspicious, and each seems like they might have done it, but each time it seems they have the killer pegged, a new piece of information rules them out and casts another under suspicion.

Poirot himself is an interesting character, he is very much human; he gets angry when he does not get answers or when someone halts his progress, he can be calm but he can get irritated easily even by people drivelling on and not getting to the point, you can see him take time to stop and enjoy the finer things in life, but can also seem stressed and torn between 2 decisions. It’s these many qualities that make Poirot such an endearing character. Poirot does say he must wrestle with his conscience, and it is a shame we never get to see much of it, as someone of his intelligence and moral aptitude, it would have been interesting to see how he deals with it.


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